We are Living in College Football’s Best Timeline
From this weekend to the end of the season, the excitement couldn’t be higher
One of my favorite things about FiveThirtyEight is their sports section where readers can find live-tracking odds and statistics for all the major sports leagues. The site constantly updates the odds that every team has of making the playoffs, winning a championship, and even winning a division (where applicable). This sort of statistical analysis gets a little hairy with college football’s selection committee, but it’s still a useful baseline for evaluating which teams have a reasonable chance of postseason glory going into the final weekend of the year. Right now, viewers can visit this section to see which teams have the best odds to make the playoffs. Read on to see my thoughts on the most likely.
Alabama, Miami, Wisconsin
Let’s start with the undefeated teams. Alabama is no surprise, but Miami and Wisconsin most certainly are. Both teams looked like the “pretty good but not elite” versions that they were in 2016 back in August of this year, but very few people expected them to have a zero in the loss column in November. Mark Richt is capitalizing on the promise that he brought to Miami earlier this year, and has the Hurricanes in line for a possible (though perhaps still not likely) chance at the playoff. Imagine how sick Georgia fans will be if Miami makes the playoff this year and the Bulldogs are left out.
Alabama is easily in the best position out of these three, even though they have to play Auburn in a day and quite likely Georgia in a week. Alabama, out of these three teams, probably has a loss to spare. Imagine a one-loss Bama team that falls to either Auburn or Georgia. Based on how strong that team has been all year, Nick Saban will probably still land in the playoffs. Nothing in college football is definite, but a one-loss Crimson Tide will be much more compelling to the committee than a one-loss Miami or Wisconsin.
The Tigers and Sooners are also in great playoff position. All they really need to do is win their conference championship games and they will almost certainly land a playoff spot. Clemson is the main reason many people are still cautious about Miami, since these two teams will play in little over a week and the Tigers look quite dominant. Yes, Miami beat Syracuse, who beat Clemson, but Dabo Swinney and his team still seem like the safer bet to win the ACC. Personally, I have no idea who will win that game, but I don’t think anyone should assume the Tigers will waltz into an easy victory.
Oklahoma probably has the clearest path. They’ve been a great team since their relatively-early loss, and will be clear favorites in their conference championship game. A loss there would be catastrophic, but Oklahoma has looked better and better for the past few weeks.
Georgia, Auburn, Ohio State
I draw the line for the playoff contenders at these three teams. Ohio state may not be able to make the playoff by winning out, but Georgia and Auburn most certainly will. Auburn has to beat Alabama to make the SEC Championship game, where they would face off with Georgia in a rematch of an early-November blowout. Georgia only has one tough game left, which will be that same championship game against either Auburn or Alabama. A one-loss Georgia, a two-loss Auburn, or an undefeated Alabama would be a lock for the playoff as SEC Champion. The only real question is whether or not a one-loss Alabama could make the playoff in addition to one of the other two (I would say yes, but that might depend on a few other factors).
Ohio State’s odds are a little murkier. Clearly, they have to beat Wisconsin (plus Michigan, let’s not forget about that game), but those two losses would weigh them down when compared to a one-loss Georgia, Miami, or Alabama. In that hypothetical situation, I’d probably bet on the name brand being enough against Miami, but maybe not against Alabama. Ohio State is a ratings-driver, so it’s in the NCAA’s best interests to have them present. The only question is whether or not the Buckeyes deserve it.
The real winner: audiences
Everything I just wrote is far from comprehensive. At best, I’ve provided a bird’s-eye view of the state of college football, and there’s room for deep statistical analyses of each team. Can Georgia’s Jake Fromm be good enough to beat Auburn again or Alabama for the first time? Can Alabama’s defense win a hypothetical matchup with a quarterback like Baker Mayfield? These questions are all worth much more analysis than I have provided here.
However, I can say this with certainty: this weekend and next weekend are a dream scenario for any college football fan. As long as Georgia beats Georgia Tech tomorrow, the SEC Championship will be a de facto playoff game for the first time in a few years, and every game that Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Miami, Ohio State, Oklahaoma, and Wisconsin play in tomorrow and next weekend are all elimination games for someone. I’m usually a firm believer that professional sports are more fun than college sports, but that argument is hard to prove this year. From generally unlikeable owners, to a rash of injuries, to the fact that a league-average QB was recently blackballed out of the NFL, college games look much more appealing this year.
There are some unbelievable games this weekend and next. Let’s be thankful for that.